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Young Fathers Have an Increased Risk of Depressive Symptoms

Update Date: Apr 14, 2014 09:53 AM EDT

Postpartum depression is characterized by moderate to severe depressive symptoms that manifest immediately after birth or up to one year later. Even though this type of depression is typically diagnosed in mothers, a new study is reporting that young fathers have an increased risk of developing these depressive symptoms as well.

The researchers, headed by Dr. Craig Garfield, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, analyzed data collected from a long-running project. The data were taken from more than 20,000 teenagers from the United States during the 1990s. The participants were asked to take a 10-question screening test for depressive symptoms every couple of years. The researchers noted that out of roughly 10,600 young men that participated in the project, one-third of them became fathers by the time they reached 24 to 32-years-old.

When the team focused on the depression scores for the fathers, they found that fathers who lived with their children had scores that increased by an average of 68 percent within the first five years of their baby's life. Even thought this jump appears to be very large, the researchers stated that for most men, a 68 percent increase in depression scores still would not clinically diagnose them as depressed.

"Many men started off with very low [scores], so even with that increase they probably wouldn't screen positive for depression," Garfield said according to HealthDay. "But some would."

The study did not examine why new fathers might have an increased risk of depressive symptoms. The researchers theorized that becoming a father at a young age could place a lot more stress on one's life, especially if the man is not prepared for it.

"The transition can be a tough one," Eric Lewandowski, of the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said. "Especially around the age at which these men became fathers -- in their mid-20s."

Garfield added, "Parenting is a team sport, and understanding how men transition into fatherhood is important, too."

There are currently no screening guidelines for depression in young fathers. The researchers added that even if these fathers would not be considered clinically depressed, it is still important to get support and help so that parenting does not become a burden. The study was published in Pediatrics.

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